Dinosaurs

Dino-mite Finds on the Monument

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By Dixie Brunner

These weighty guys were not ‘windshield tourists,’ they hung around southern Utah for 73 million years! But they didn’t spend time here without leaving a profound impact.

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Paleontologist Dr. Alan Titus out in the field recovering dinosaur bones. Photo by Courtesy BLM.

“I’m excited about the discoveries,” said Dr. Alan Titus, paleontologist for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). “I love the interest being generated in dinosaurs. There have been so many unique discoveries here. Many scientists consider this a frontier of paleontology, and I’m glad to be facilitating the research.”

Titus is referring to the plethora of dinosaur discoveries on the GSENM. Exquisite specimens have been documented. A Hadrosaur, Parasaurolophus, Utahceratops (Greek for ‘horned’), Plesiosaur, and Nasutocetatops titusi, just to name a few.

Some specimens found are mummified with skin surrounding their large, fragmented skeletons, leaving additional body tissue for scientists to study. The GSENM has become one of the premiere dinosaur discovery areas in the world.

“The significance of the GSENM is in providing the completeness of the story,” said Titus. “You can see a 30 million year history. The Kaiparowits offers an exceptionally complete record of the end of the age of dinosaurs.”

What exactly were the amenities attracting the dinosaurs to this geographic location?

Climate and scenery. While southern Utah is typically hot and dry in the summer, the climate has changed over millions of years. It was once a hot, subtropical coastal climate, providing for an abundance of plants and animals. “As the sea level retreated, it became a mid-level coastal plain,” said Titus. “It had a lot of water and was very lush.”

Resource protection is the BLM’s primary focus. Fragile environments and specimens millions of years old require the utmost respect and care.

A massive lizard found on a flat near Grosvenor Arch was the subject of media attention. Besides the rarity of the dinosaur’s discovery, it was the subject of the BLM’s first live, interactive educational satellite broadcast.

Dr. Titus says tourists interested in further observing the existence of dinosaurs in the area should drive to the oyster beds on Cottonwood Wash, or to the 20 Mile Wash site on the Burr Trail, where more than 350 tracks can be observed near the Hole-in-the-Rock Road.

“I love my job,” said Dr. Titus, of his paleontology work on the Monument. “Studying and finding these dinosaurs is like trying to bring something back from the dead. It’s like trying to recreate a lost world. Now visitors will be able to share some of this excitement.”

Dr. Titus even has a dinosaur named after him. The British scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B named a new species of horned dinosaur unearthed at the Monument the Nasutoceratops titusi. The first part of the name – Nasutoceratops – translates as “big-nose horned face.” The second part of the name – titusi – honors Dr. Titus for his years of research and scientific collaboration.

Nasutoceratops titusi was found in a geologic unit known as the Kaiparowits Formation in southern Utah. The dinosaur was first discovered by (then) University of Utah masters student Eric Lund in 2006. Nasutoceratops were about 15 feet long and weighed about 5,000 pounds.

Tourists desiring to learn more about the ancient dinosaurs are encouraged to start at the GSENM Visitor Center in Big Water, where paleontology is the theme. All other monument visitor centers can also direct you to more information on paleontology site locations.

The Big Water Dinosaur Festival is held in the late Summer/early Fall. This year it is on October 16, 17, 18. Plan to attend this celebration of our original tourists.

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